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Drought That Triggered Syrian Civil War Is Worst In 900 Years: Study

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The drought that began in the eastern Mediterranean Levant region in 1998 and triggered the disastrous Syrian civil war was the worst climate change event in the past 900 years, a NASA study says.

The study published online in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres, is part of NASA's effort to improve computer models that can simulate climate changes.

The scientists recreated the history of drought by analyzing tree ring records showing the annual precipitation history from the past years back to the 1100's.

The area spanned from Southern Europe and Northern Africa to the Levant region in Middle East. The Mediterranean Levant region includes Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Cyprus, Palestine, Turkey and Syria.

"The magnitude and significance of human climate change requires us to really understand the full range of natural climate variability," said Ben Cook, climate scientist at NASA.

"If we look at recent events and we start to see anomalies that are outside this range of natural variability, then we can say with some confidence that it looks like this particular event or this series of events had some kind of human caused climate change contribution," he added.

Human-Induced Global Warming

The scientists identified the driest years and found patterns in the geographic distribution of droughts. This provided baseline data for them to identify the causes linked to dry years.

This could provide information both from natural variations in the drought in the region that could help scientists distinguish droughts made worse by human-induced global warming.

The drought in the region between 1998 and 2012 is longer than usual and is 50 percent drier than the driest period in the past 500 years. It is 10 to 20 percent drier than the worst drought since 1100.

Drought, caused by warming of the temperatures, could lead to large-scale disruption of food systems and possible conflict over water resources. A climate scientist, Yochanan Kushnir, said that the Mediterranean area is expected by climate change models to dry in the future.

The Syrian Conflict

Experts see water stress and population growth as two factors that will trigger conflict and humanitarian crises in the coming years. The recent Syrian Civil War can be traced in part to the drought.

In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists analyzed observations and model simulations that show that the recent Syrian drought was implicated in the current conflict.

There is evidence that the drought in Syria between 2007 and 2010 has contributed to the Syrian conflict. This led to widespread crop failure leaving families in rural areas in dire need of financial resources. Around 1.5 million people from rural areas migrated to urban cities to look for work.

The government's lack of response to the drought and displacement of residents were occurrences that were believed to have triggered conflicts against the government, resulting to a devastating civil war. 

In a statement by Prince Charles in 2015, he said that one probable cause of the Syrian civil war is climate change. The drought that continued for many years led a large number of people to vacate land due to lack of water and crop failure.

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